Annika Kovar, 18, of Frazee, Minn., a senior at Perham High School, created a charity that has encouraged and helped 105 childcare facilities in 21 states to grow vegetable gardens for their kids, and is engaged in numerous other projects to promote healthy eating and physical activity among young people. In 2012, Annika suffered a concussion in a gymnastics accident and had to refrain from any physical activity for six months. “Over the course of my recovery, I experienced first-hand the effects that lack of exercise and poor eating habits can have,” she said. Afterward, “I was determined to become the healthiest version of myself, and inspire others to do the same.”
So while she was volunteering as an activities leader at a local daycare facility, Annika planted a garden to teach the children “where real food comes from” and to feed them healthy produce. Other daycares in Minnesota heard about her garden, and before long, Annika was providing free vegetable seeds, advice and, in some cases, hands-on planting assistance to 35 childcare facilities. Last year, her “Little Sprouts Garden Gang” program expanded to 21 states, and she published a children’s book to extol the virtues of gardening and to help fund her program. Annika also has produced exercise videos and taught a short fitness routine to encourage kids to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. In addition, she promotes both nutrition and exercise through speeches, food drives, benefit concerts, radio public service announcements, social media and a personal website. “Working together, we can educate and encourage today’s youth to move more, eat healthier, and help lower childhood obesity,” said Annika.